In his remarks yesterday on addressing gun violence, President Obama tried his best to lower the rhetorical temperature. “I’m not on the ballot again; I’m not looking to score some points,” he said. “I think we can disagree without impugning other people’s motives or without being disagreeable. We don’t need to be talking past one another.”
It was right around that time that Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign posted an “OBAMA WANTS YOUR GUNS” message online, alongside a fake image of the president in a military helmet, which appeared to be designed to resemble a Nazi propaganda poster from World War II.
So much for disagreeing without impugning other people’s motives.
Obviously, Cruz wasn’t alone. Even before the president spoke, Republican presidential candidates were apoplectic about Obama making modest, incremental changes to current law, which even the NRA concedes would have little practical effect.
Away from the campaign trail, congressional Republicans began making threats about blocking the White House’s policy.
Leading Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee and from the party’s conservative wing vowed to use the appropriations process to block Obama’s executive actions and deny the president the necessary funding to implement some of his proposals.“What the president has done is unconstitutional and any action Congress can take, we should, including appropriations,” said Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.) a member of the House’s Freedom Caucus.
Before the administration’s policy was even announced, one GOP lawmaker raised the specter of shutting down the Justice Department over gun policy.
There was, however, one missing element in the Republican’s pushback.
At no point yesterday did any Republican candidates or lawmakers point to anything specific in the president’s policy that they found objectionable. Not one measure, not one idea, not one initiative, not one paragraph, nothing.
Marco Rubio said Obama’s approach “undermines” the Second Amendment, but he didn’t (and couldn’t) say how. Carly Fiorina said the president’s incremental changes to implementing current law are “lawless,” but she offered nothing in the way of substantiation.
This isn’t just about pointing and laughing at the inanity of criticisms so painfully foolish that Republican voters ought to feel insulted. It’s not even about the degree to which yesterday helped prove why policy debates are effectively impossible in D.C. right now.
Rather, the broader point here is that Republicans have abandoned the pretense of seriousness. The dirty little secret, which went largely unmentioned yesterday, is that GOP officials simply couldn’t find any specific problems with the White House’s plan, so they screamed bloody murder just for the sake of doing so.
The lobbying arm of the National Rifle Association, for crying out loud, was willing to say on the record in reference to Obama and his team, “They’re not really doing anything.” Republicans understood this, but they had to break with the NRA, go through the motions, and throw a tantrum anyway, because in their minds, that’s what the political circumstances require.
It was a rather pathetic spectacle, even by contemporary standards, on an issue of great national significance. Republicans didn’t spend the day outraged; they spent the day lying. The difference matters.